The kidnapping of the school children is just a small part of a wider crisis that has been ongoing in Cameroon, known today as the “Cameroon Anglophone Problem.”
At least 79 boarding school children in Cameroon plus two teachers and a driver were kidnapped on Monday from school by armed militia. Though the children and the driver were on Wednesday recovered, the teachers are still missing. The kidnap comes at the height of a political crisis in the largely English-speaking part of the country where a movement for secession has sprung up.
The children, all boys aged between 10 and 14 were kidnapped from the Presbyterian Secondary School in Bamenda by armed gunmen believed to be English-speaking secessionists.
Though no group has claimed responsibility, both the government and the secessionists have been accusing each other of carrying out the kidnap. The secessionists believe the government staged the kidnap in a bid to discredit their calls of secession.
Immediately after news of the kidnapping broke out, an army search group was organized by the government to rescue the children. Less than 48 hours later, the children were recovered in one of the Presbyterian churches in the region.
Samuel Fonki, a Presbyterian Church official revealed that the gunmen had delivered them to the church compound. “They were brought last night to one of our churches near Bamenda. They look tired and psychologically tortured,” he said as reported by the NY Times. “The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying,” he added.
The priest also noted that this was not the first kidnapping that the school had experienced. Previously 11 children were kidnapped and the school had to pay a $4,400 ransom for them to be released. It is not yet clear whether the current group of children was released on ransom or not.
What is The Cameroon Anglophone Problem?
The kidnapping of the school children is just a small part of a wider crisis that has been ongoing in Cameroon. Known today as the “Cameroon Anglophone Problem”, the crisis dates back to colonial times when both France and Britain colonized the country creating both French and English-speaking dominant cultures and regions in the country.
After independence, French-speaking Cameroon took power and has controlled much of everything in government. This has caused tensions with the minority English-speaking Cameroon who feel marginalized and suppressed.
In recent years, violent outbursts have broken out leading to the displacement of thousands, deaths of hundreds and destruction of property worth millions of dollars. The outbursts were characterized by calls for secession where the Anglophone Cameroonians want to break from the larger Francophone Cameroon.
A video of the kidnapped children showed them saying their names and repeating the phrase; “I was taken from school last night by the Amba boys, I don’t know where I am.” The term Amba is short for Ambazonia, the name of the new country that the Anglophone secessionists want to create.
The separatists have vowed to destabilize the country until they are allowed to break away from the state. Part of their strategy has been to attack civilians who do not support their mission, kidnapping school children and ordering for the closure of schools.
They have also protested the tyrannical leadership of the 85-year-old Biya who has been president for more than 35 years. He recently won another term in a controversial election that will now see him rule for a total of at least 42 years
As a result of the clashes, at least 400 people have died and 246,000 have been displaced from their homes.
The kidnap comes against a backdrop of the 200 Chibok girls in Nigeria — Cameroon’s neighbor to the north — who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2014. Boko Haram is an Islam extremist group that has terrorized northern Nigeria for more than a decade now.